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Expert gardeners Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden talk plant sensuality

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For Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, gardening is about much more than a pretty-looking plot. Having designed public and private gardens across the country, the horticulture experts look to engage all of the senses when bringing plant life together.

This Thursday, August 29 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, the couple will be teaching 50 Shades of Green: Gardening For Sensuality, a lecture built specifically on the five senses, from edible blooms to plants that attract specific animals and insects. In advance of the gathering, Lauren and Scott spoke with Westword about how this lecture came together, and the special qualities a garden can take on after dark.

See also: Photos: Highland's Garden Cafe back in bloom

Westword: What is the 50 Shades of Green: Gardening for Sensuality lecture all about?

Lauren Springer Ogden: There are a whole lot of aspects of sensuality in the garden, so we're just going to explore, first of all, the basic senses, besides just the visual sense. Basically, fragrance is a big part of it. There are different kinds of fragrance -- the kind that wafts and the kind that you don't smell unless you actually touch or rub on (a plant).

We're also going to talk about eating things in the garden -- not so much eating things from the garden, because sensuality is kind of spontaneous. Not the idea of having to harvest it and haul it inside, but things you can pick and stick in your mouth while you're walking around. We're also going to talk about the sensuality of having animals in the garden -- how to attract them to the garden with food that they like. Hummingbirds, birds and insects.

Scott Ogden: Things that you touch as you move around; different textures, plants that actually rustle in the wind and make noise, things like that. Things that you actually physically see move. What we're focusing on is -- for most gardens, people think of that as a visual presentation. It's almost always thought of in terms of color.

Color can be kind of a tyrant -- it's not that we won't include it, but a lot of the other senses come into play when you dumb that down a little bit. Part of the discussion is the garden in the evening, when things start to get a little darker and color is no longer ruling your senses and you start to notice and can appreciate the other qualities of the garden.

Lauren: We have a big section on the evening garden, which is very apropos this time of year because nobody really wants to be outside from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Scott, you make a great point -- it seems like so much of a garden, at first glance, is about color. But at night, that doesn't come into play so much.

Scott: You can make the analogy of, if you put a blindfold on, all of a sudden you start to hear things and smell things. Some of those things don't come into play otherwise.

How did you go about developing the 50 Shares of Green, Gardening for Sensuality lecture and workshop?

Lauren: Scott had written a book a long time ago on the moonlit garden. It was based on his experiences living in Texas, which is even more of a place where you don't want to be outside during the day during much of the year because it's so hot. We talked about doing a lecture on this probably almost a decade ago, and we just got busy with other aspects of things we wanted to talk about.

We wanted to come up with a new, big lecture -- we do that every three years because it's so much work. We put together one big, new whomper every few years and we work it according to the region where we are giving the talk. We just get sick of giving the same talk after a while, so it was definitely time for something new.

The book, 50 Shades of Grey, Scott was making a joke about that -- he's like, how can we do 50 Shades of Green? I thought it was hilarious and I knew we had to do it, while the book is still in people's minds. That prompted us.

Scott: It also lets us talk about a lot of the things that we care about in the garden, too. The diversity of experiences that are there, and the way we like to think about garden design -- as far as highlighting the individual characters that plants have -- and letting them come to the fore so they're not just being used as furniture or paint. Where the plants themselves have their personalities.

Lauren: We're often asked to lecture on specific plants, or how do you design a garden. The latter, I can't speak for Scott, but I absolutely hate that. I don't feel like you can teach someone how to design a garden. It's nice to be able to talk about something that is more fun.

We're always trying to get people to connect with their plants -- people say, I want a garden and I want it to be pretty. It's like, no. What really makes you love your garden is the fact that you're in it, you're working with it and you get to know the plants and notice how they change. You don't get attached to it if you don't hang out and do stuff in it. Be really present.

Scott: It's actually kind of a space where you can lose yourself and reconnect with nature. Lauren, you've worked with the Denver Botanic Gardens quite a bit. How did that relationship begin?

Lauren: I started off teaching there in 1991. Over the years, I was asked to do the Water-Smart garden back in 1995 or 1996, I can't remember? It was almost twenty years ago. I did the Fragrance and Romantic Gardens in around 2000 and I did the South African Plaza area around 2002.

Scott: We did do a garden together there last year at Chatfield Arboretum and the teaching she's done has been pretty continuously. But the other kinds of interventions have been more episodic, depending on certain people who were interested in bringing Lauren in to help with projects at different stages in the Gardens life.

That must be something interesting about your work -- not that it's not permanent, but it is ever changing.

Lauren: Yes. Public garden work, the design part, has a lot of benefits. I really like doing public work that more people can appreciate -- you don't feel like you're just making one person happy. (Laughs.) You can reach so many people.

But it can also be really fraught with committees and everyone wanting to be a cook in the kitchen. The biggest problem we've had with public gardens is getting the maintenance to be what you want it to be -- when we do private gardens, we accept the fact that they may be maintained or not. It is up to the owner. If they want it to go to H-E-double-L, that is their problem. (Laughs.)

Scott: It's difficult, basically because there's a misunderstanding that garden design is something that happens at the front of a garden. Garden design is actually something that happens every day as you garden. It's not like building a building.

Lauren: I've been on both ends of it -- I've worked in a public garden. When you don't design the garden yourself, you're not invested as a gardener. Even if you want to make the garden look good, you don't have the same understanding of why the garden is what it is, and you don't have the same love for it as if you actually designed it.

So, when you have a designer and you have a maintainer, you lose so much in the translation. The ideal situation, which is what happens a lot more in Europe, is that the designer actually maintains the garden. That's what I'm getting to do up here in Fort Collins. I have a public garden I'm starting up here -- the Gardens on Spring Creek where they gave me three-quarters of an acre and I'm going to get to design it and take care of it. It has been my lifelong dream because there is such a disconnect when you then have someone in charge of it and they don't feel the ownership. Nor can they really understand your vision because they're not you.

50 Shades of Green: Gardening for Sensuality kicks off tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Denver Botanic Gardens, with a tasting reception hosted by Slow Food Denver. The lecture begins at 7. Tickets are $15 to $20, and the tasting is included. The Ogdens will lead a companion gardening workshop Friday at 9:30 a.m. for $40 to $45. For tickets and information, visit the Denver Botanic Gardens website.

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